When you’re in the throes of finding a preschool, it can feel like a monumental project. Is Montessori better? Should you co-op? How much time at school is the right amount? Try to keep in mind that simply by sending your child to preschool, you’re helping to ensure that he or she will fare better when Kindergarten rolls around. Being with other kids, becoming accustomed to adults other than a parent, sharing, following class rules and learning to adapt to a new environment, all of these things will help the littles succeed when you send them off to elementary school. The right place for your children is the place that feels right to you and that suits the needs of your family.
It Takes a Village
Want to see what your favorite people are up to when they’re at their home away from home? A co-op may be the option you’re looking for. Get to know your child’s new friends and see the preschool’s teachers in their natural environment by enrolling the kids (and yourself, really) in a school that uses its parents as a resource.
At Orinda’s TOPS, families are required to have 10-11 classroom participation days per year. A play-based program with plenty of outdoor time, the co-op at TOPS is open to children 2-4. The Pre-K class does not require parent participation, but you’re welcome to join for field trips or visit when you have time to spare.
Parent participation at Lafayette Nursery School (LNS) varies with your child’s age. As she grows, so does your commitment to the classroom, beginning at 2-3 times per month in the 2s class. Located on 1st street, within walking distance to downtown and the Lafayette Library, LNS is the perfect choice for families looking to ease into the preschool experience.
For families straddling the line in Walnut Creek’s Saranap, 2-3 days a week at Pied Piper Preschool may be just the ticket. One full morning of every two weeks, 8 hours of maintenance and 6 hours of fundraising and reasonable tuition will gain you and your darlings access to this 50 year-old cooperative. Buyouts are available for the maintenance and fundraising commitments.
Working it Out
When both parents are working, an extended day preschool is an absolute necessity. Finding a spot for your most precious family members to thrive while you’re bringing home the bacon can be a challenge, but the range of options in Lamorinda can ease the transition.
Infants as young as 6 weeks can enroll at Nanny’s House, a small school on Old Tunnel Road in Lafayette. Founder Marta P. uses music and a Reggio Emilia based approach to enrich each child’s daily experience. Full day care begins at 7:00 and extends to 6:00 p.m.
With several locations in the Bay Area, Old Firehouse School is one of the few that offers care for children starting at 1 year. Childcare for the youngest attendees is offered full day from 3-5 days a week while both half and full-day schedules are available beginning in the 2s class on through the school’s developmental Kindergarten program. OFS is a quick hop from Lafayette’s downtown and highway 24, making it convenient for the commuting parent.
Montessori based Fountainhead has extended care from 7:00 a.m.-6:00 p.m. at their location in Orinda, with gymnastics, sports, music enrichment and more offered though a third-party organization on select days. An optional afternoon Spanish immersion class for kids 3-6 will have them fluent in no time. Families looking for Mandarin immersion will have to make the commute to Fountainhead’s Dublin Campus which also hosts the school’s private Kindergarten and elementary.
Kids at the The Meher School’s White Pony Preschool will experience a curriculum based on a blend of Montessori, Waldorf and Reggio Emilia principles in an indoor/outdoor classroom environment. White Pony is an excellent option for parents with longer hours, offering an extended day that can begin as early as 7:00 a.m. and run as late as 6:30 p.m. Looking to transition to private school? Meher also has an elementary school, K-5 at the same site.
St. Mark’s Nursery School’s “bright and early” and full day program makes it an excellent choice for working parents. Though the emergent curriculum is play based, the school prides itself on graduating Kindergarten ready kids.
Play it Again
Moraga’s Growing Tree allows children ages 18 months-Pre-K to attend as few as 1 time or as many as 5 times week. If you choose the once a week option, however, that day must be a Monday or Friday. Programs balance structured group time and individual free choice time to prepare kids for life in Kindergarten.
One of Lamorinda’s oldest private preschools, Mulberry Tree offers literature-based learning centers and creative outdoor play activities at their location on St. Mary’s Road in Moraga. The school has a flexible range of morning, afternoon, and full day options dependent upon age and needs.
Too Cool For School
Families in Burton Valley may want to consider Merriewood, a preschool on the grounds of Burton Valley Elementary. Care can begin at 8:30 and end as late as 2:15 for kids 3-5 with regular program hours running 9:00-11:30. Children 2 1/2-3 may only extend until 12:30, but both options allow for familiarization with the elementary school property and the opportunity to meet local friends, easing the transition to Kindergarten.
Situated on Stanley Boulevard, Happy Days Learning Center is conveniently located for families in the Springhill area. Two buildings house the younger and older children’s classrooms each with outdoor areas for imaginative play. Flexible hours that begin as early as 7:00 a.m. make Happy Days a convenient choice for working families. Because the school provides before and after care for kids K-5, a shuttle van is available from nearby Springhill Elementary.
Growing With God
Nurtury Preschool at Moraga Valley Presbyterian Church offers extended programs from as early as 8:00 a.m. until as late as 5:00 p.m. With clean, modern classrooms and two shaded, fenced play areas, Nurtury is a place your kids will be excited to spend their days. Children as young as 2 and through Pre-K may attend 2 to 5 days a week during the school year. Families with children age 3 ½ to 5 may wish to enroll their students in the more task-oriented, age-based afternoon enrichment classes.
Incorporating regular chapel time, Holy Shepard Christian Preschool in Orinda follows an emergent curriculum which encourages independence and spiritual growth. With a Tuesday/Thursday program for younger children and at Monday/Wednesday/Friday schedule for the Pre-K kids, Holy Shepard operates from 9:00-12:00 with an extended day option from noon-2:00.
Gan Ilan, or “Garden of Trees” at Lafayette’s Temple Isaiah is open to children of all faiths, with priority given to Temple members. The Jewish tradition is celebrated at the preschool throughout the day. The morning program, for kids 2-4 runs Monday through Friday from 9:00 a.m. until 1:00 p.m. with extended care available in the morning from 7:00-9:00 and in the afternoons from 1:00-3:30. Gan Ilan offers extended from 3:30-5:30 Monday through Thursday.
St. Stephen’s preschool in Orinda also welcomes families of all faiths. The school runs a half day program with an optional “lunch bunch” extended day ending at 2:00 p.m. which includes circle time and outdoor play as well enrichment programs such as cooking, science, yoga and Spanish, depending upon the child’s age.
Approaching child development using a center based classroom and a goal of keeping open lines of communication between family, church and school, Joyful Beginnings is located in the Lafayette Methodist Church. A half day program with a “lunch bunch” that continues until 2:45 makes Joyful Beginnings ideal for families with older kids attending Lafayette Elementary right across the street.
Keeping It In The House
Grace Dixon of Lafayette Kids Cottage aims to combine the convenience of a nanny, the stimulation of a school and the comfort of a home in her small, cozy preschool. With a range of options for care, Lafayette Kids Cottage can help simplify your life.
Rounding Them Up
Need more information? Learn about many of the area’s schools by attending a preschool fair. For over 20 years, Lamorinda Moms has sponsored a fair in November, rounding up all the local schools to help parents find the right place for their kids. Can’t make the event? Download their free Preschool Fair Booklet, a comprehensive guide listing philosophies, hours, cost, contact information and staff to student ratios and start your search for your child’s first dream school.
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